Nurses and doctors battling Japan’s mounting coronavirus epidemic are also facing abuse, hysteria and harassment from their fellow citizens.
“Why are you nurses walking around outside? It’s absurd.” a nurse found herself accosted by an agitated man as she returned to her car. “It’s your fault the virus is spreading!”
“You work at the hospital, right?” a group of mothers interrogated another nurse in a Tokyo park. “We’d appreciate it if you stayed away.” Shocked, the nurse immediately took her kids home, she told the TBS network. “It’s as if they equate nurses with coronavirus.”
Multiple cases of healthcare workers’ children being kicked out of public daycare centers — forcing some nurses to stay home or even leave the profession — have compelled the government to issue a statement that “prejudice and discrimination toward the children of medical workers is absolutely not permissible.”
A Japanese Red Cross campaign has warned that COVID-19 is triggering another epidemic — of fear and vilification of medical staff and patients.
Even before coronavirus hit, nurses were in short supply in Japan. With a spike in severely ill patients needing ventilators and ECMO heart-lung machines, which require additional staff, nurses have been stretched to the limit.
In Osaka, two nurses at Namihaya Rehabilitation Hospital, which has over 100 coronavirus cases, were ordered back to work even after they tested positive for the virus. The hospital said it couldn’t find anyone else.
A 2019 survey by the Japan Nursing Association found that one out of every six nurses quits their job within the first year because of the punishing work, low pay and lack of time off, in addition to sexual harassment.